Fallout continues from House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s announcement that he would resign effective May 1, after revealing that there was an FBI inquiry into his activities. Rosenberger maintains his innocence but says he’s leaving because the matter will keep him and the House from devoting time to important issues. Because of his announcement, some are now asking questions about what happens next.
Speaker Pro Tem Kirk Schuring, the second in command, is now in charge of holding session in the House right now. It’s unclear how long he’ll remain in that post – lawmakers will consider that next month, after Rosenberger’s May 1 resignation date. But Republican state Auditor and Attorney General hopeful Dave Yost says he thinks Rosenberger shouldn’t wait.
“And what happens in the next two weeks? Does business grind to a halt? Do we have continuing questions about decisions that are made? It’s better to just make a clean break.”
Longtime Statehouse lobbyist and Republican operative Neil Clark’s take is a little different. He’s interested in several pieces of legislation currently being considered, and he thinks the House itself needs to take a break right now.
“I believe the House should suspend having committee hearings and doing any floor votes until they collectively meet as a caucus and determine how they are going to move forward with all of the things that may be alleged to have happened during the last four years with Rosenberger. Unless they clean themselves through the process of how they are doing political work and legislative work, I don’t think anything is going to really change. And you can’t ignore the fact that something happened and you just continue having sessions and continue having committee hearings.”
But the future of the process is not the only thing being questioned right now. The political narrative is already developing. Republican candidate for Governor Mary Taylor, in a statement, takes aim at Rosenberger, saying the behavior he is accused of is “part and parcel of the hubris that the Columbus Establishment and good old boy network display on a regular basis.” Taylor has been running as a non-establishment candidate, though she’s been lieutenant governor for more than seven years and was a state lawmaker before that. But in addition to trying to set herself apart from Rosenberger, she also raised questions about why her primary opponent, Attorney General Mike DeWine, called Rosenberger over the weekend and advised him to step down if he’s guilty. It’s a question that’s shared by David Pepper, Chairman of the Ohio Democratic party.
“That is all really problematic. A sitting attorney general – either they should be helping with the investigation and offering the FBI,”we’re here to help.” Or they should stay out of it. So I think when you start to see such inappropriate behavior by other officials in the midst of the investigation, it again speaks to the coziness and a culture of corruption in Columbus that I think just dominates the place.”
DeWine and Taylor do agree that Rosenberger should resign immediately. But DeWine’s spokesman defends him by saying DeWine had the same information everyone else had when he made the phone call, which he did because it was the right thing to do. He went on to say that action was a sign of leadership, not politics and says he’s not surprised people like Taylor and Pepper find the concept unusual.
A public and bitter succession campaign
What is unusual is this situation. Tom Suddes, former Cleveland Plain Dealer Statehouse Bureau Chief is somewhat of a historian when it comes to Ohio politics. He says the behind-the-scenes race to succeed Rosenberger between House Finance Chair Ryan Smith and former Speaker Larry Householder is becoming public and bitter, and that it could reach a new level now.
“The competition to succeed Mr. Rosenberger next year was already in high gear which is like having a three level chess war I suppose. You’re trying to strategize, to use a bad word, to work all of that out. These are interesting days in Columbus and the Statehouse I know and I can’t think of anything quite like this or specifically like this.”
Suddes says there have been a couple of speakers who stepped down during the past century to take another position but none have faced the controversy surrounding Rosenberger’s situation.